Victorian Surgical Theatre

“Powers beyond my control had brought me to Room 5 at the clinic in Casablanca, and I could not have run away then even if I had wanted to. . . I went to say good-bye to myself in the mirror. We would never meet again, and I wanted to give that other self a long last look in the eye, and a wink for luck.”
— Jan Morris, Conundrum (From Stone “The Empire Strikes Back…”)

“Listen to me, Frankenstein.”
— Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

I’m waiting for an email — a referral for surgery — gods know if it will ever come. And yet, at least the possibility for surgery seems tangible. This is more than I can say about my other, less ambitious, more immediate transition goals. I’ll take it. But I don’t even know what to call it, what to feel about it. There is my fear of the procedure on my less than resilient body, but I can overcome this. I suppose my unease is more ontological. What does this surgery say about me, my body, my sense of self? I have tried hard to accept the possibility that I can be a content female person with my feminized genitals, as they are — perhaps with an orchiectomy. I certainly don’t have a hard time loving other women with various genitals, it doesn’t even compute as an issue.

But I know this is not the case for my own body. If I do not do something about this, then I will never feel comfortable during sex — or in general. It is difficult to accept that this possibility for comfort may come at the cost of never enjoying sex again; the outcomes of vaginoplasties are never guaranteed. But beyond this, that part of my body makes me feel awkward, in a way that is perhaps not easy to describe; it’s the feeling of flesh moving against flesh in a way that feels alienating to my body. I do not think that this operation will make me a more authentic woman — that’s not about genitals. I guess I just want it. This isn’t a cut or lack, but a regeneration.

Regardless of my desires, the whole process is tricky. The language we use to describe it is fraught with complications, even within the community. “Sex Reassignment Surgery” (SRS) holds a lot of medicalized baggage as well as suggesting an oppositional relationship between genders (like MtF). Some people like this, it allows them, I think, to sweep away the before part, to place a barrier between now and before. This is captured in Jan Morris’ autobiography Conundrum in a scene where James says goodbye to him/herself in the mirror, enter Jan. Sandy Stone uses this scene as the epigraph to her seminal work “The Posttranssexual Manifesto.” It is intended to expose and critique medicalized and patriarchal accounts of trans temporal unfolding through certain narratives which uphold oppositional distinctions between the sexes—there is no in-between. The word reassignment futher suggests an outside agency — 20th-century technoscience grants you a new sex! Sadly, this narrative is the one that most cis — and some trans — people are familiar with. Unfortunately, this is also implied in my own transition as I am being shepherded towards this surgery as a form of clinical telos, a final outcome: “you have a vagina, you’re a girl now.” SRS is perhaps the only normative aspect of my own transition, and therefore perhaps the most realizable (we will see!). Thus, it feels like the only aspect of my transition which is moving forward, it’s not marred in the liminal.

However, if I had to pick a term for my surgery I do have some fondness for SRS. There is a somatic sense to it, unlike the currently preferred “Gender Reassignment Surgery” (GRS) euphemism which does not capture the ineffable quality I mentioned earlier with regards to my body. This is, for me, about bodily materiality, and not constructed identity categories — not that these can be disaggregated. I guess what I am saying is my gender feels good, or at least not under threat by my penis. I have this issue with the even more designed to be palatable “Gender Confirmation Surgery” (GCS). My gender is okay, really. Also, whether it is sex or gender, who is doing the confirming here (doctors)?

Despite all of these issues, I want this procedure. It might not make me happy(ier), and it certainly won’t confirm/affirm/reassign anything, but it will make my flesh my own, part of this assemblage of self. I realize that I am also replicating the same clinical narratives that I pointed out above, but these medicalized regimes do not imply a one-sided agency. I can speak my own narrative (which I am doing), which to a certain extent disrupts this process. Susan Stryker notes this process of speaking as a mirror, not like Morris’ which reflects an oppositional understanding of sex and gender, but unto every one; so that they may reflect that their natures are constructed, just like mine. The daemon speaks back to its creator and finds its maker wanting. I find this whole process very wanting. And yet, I still want.

I am a trans doing her PhD in gender/cultural theory.

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